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Accelerating Standards for 3D Data to Improve Long-Term Usability

screenshot of 3D visual of mastodon skeleton
3D visual of mastodon skeleton, University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology

Have you ever virtually walked on Mars or ridden a buggy on the moon? Perhaps you’ve viewed 3D images of mastodons or dinosaurs online? If you’ve done any of these or similar activities, you’ve interacted with and used 3D data.

3D data means different things to different people. Most are probably familiar with highly processed outputs, like the previous examples, which often lack documentation describing how the data has been created and processed. In fact, depending on the creation method, the creator may not even have access to the processing information due to the use of proprietary tools. However, even when 3D data is well documented through the best efforts of a creator, data steward, or repository, the data’s description is generally bespoke, and the terms used are ambiguous. This gives 3D data a steep slope to climb to achieve findability, accessibility, interoperability, and reusability (FAIR-ness).

The use of 3D technologies has grown exponentially in the last 10 years. As a result, research libraries have invested significant infrastructure, services, and people into supporting research, teaching principles, and modeling applications of 3D technologies and data. Research libraries have begun creating and capturing 3D data using a variety of methods and formats, establishing 3D immersion labs, opening 3D printing shops within their library spaces, and adding 3D data to their repositories. As use of these tools and services has become more widespread, appropriate stewardship of the digital data is critical for ongoing accessibility, but not yet widely established or agreed upon. Enter the Community Standards for 3D Data Preservation (CS3DP) initiative.

Organized by colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Michigan, and Iowa State University, CS3DP aims to be an open, radically inclusive, and collaborative community invested in creating standards. Composed of working groups from national and international participants, the CS3DP community has increased awareness and accelerated the creation and adoption of best practices, metadata standards, and policies for the stewardship of 3D data.

group photo of CS3DP National Forum 2 participants
CS3DP National Forum 2 participants, funded by IMLS

“At its core, CS3DP is a community of dedicated professionals working together to ensure enduring access to 3D data,” said Jennifer Moore, head of Data Services at Washington University in St. Louis University Libraries, and co–principal investigator on the project with Adam Rountrey of University of Michigan and Hannah Scates Kettler of Iowa State University. “From intricate models of reconstructed cultural heritage sites to original 3D designs and digitized museum objects, working in 3D presents new and evolving opportunities in research, education, and communication. As an interdisciplinary community of practice, we are positioned to articulate and address the shared challenges of documentation, access, and preservation.”

The first step in building this community was surveying experts in institutions who work with 3D data, both as creators in a variety of disciplines and stewards. Survey results overwhelmingly demonstrated that there were no shared standards or best practices to ensure the data type could persist. The other main takeaway was that people wanted this guidance and were willing to work together to create it. The CS3DP project officially kicked off in 2018 with a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (LG-88-17-0171-17) to host a series of community convenings, or forums, around practices for the preservation of 3D data.

The project included two community forums, many virtual meetings, and focused work groups. “The workgroups formed at the first forum [although membership remains open] to dig into key areas: preservation best practices, management, metadata, rights, and access,” said Adam Rountrey, research museum collection manager, University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology. “We all recognize the pressing need for these standards, and that has been reflected by the amazing investment and dedication shown by workgroup participants.”

In 2021, the much-anticipated CS3DP volume will be published by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), 3D Data Creation to Curation: Building Community Standards for 3D Data Preservation. “The community has been working with 3D data for some time now, and this book will really help inform practices and policies for 3D data creation and preservation,” said Hannah Scates Kettler, head of Digital Scholarship & Initiatives at Iowa State University Library. “Following the publication of the book, we look forward to further development around topics like 3D data ethics and folding in more commercial perspectives.”

For more information about the CS3DP initiative, or if you would like to join the community, please visit the CS3DP website.